Steven Matz steps forward, straightens up and throws. It’s a 93mph fastball. “Stuurike one!” the loudspeaker cackles. A soft chant of encouragement across the baseball field grows louder. “Let’s. Go. Mets. Let’s. Go. Mets.”
Heavy drops of rain plop-plop into $10 beers and saturate a sea of blue and orange. Matz takes position again on the pitcher’s mound with glove and ball folded before him in prayer. A hush settles across the stadium, glowing beneath blaring lights.
The ball hurtles toward the San Francisco Giants batter and, with a clap, ricochets skyward, growing larger as it plummets towards the stands behind third base. It lands in the row in front of us as keen fans dive simultaneously at it. A 12-year-old kid slips beneath seats and emerges, holding the ball high as though he’s won a trophy, while his family erupts into a chorus of “Jo-ey! Jo-ey! Jo-ey!”
Blustery snaps of rain shove me towards the rotunda, where I search stalls for another beer and a meal. The food has improved since the days of peanuts and crackerjacks — I pass lobster rolls, spicy fried chicken and barbacoa tacos cooked in beer, but I opt for a mushroom burger at Shake Shack.
The last time I was at Citi Field was for a game on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, where an American flag the size of the field was unfurled in a ritual of remembrance. It’s been five years since that game and, while visiting my brother in Queens this week, I couldn’t resist an evening at the ballpark.
Having grown up nearby on the North Fork of Long Island, I was born a Mets fan, and I’d often come to Shea Stadium — demolished in 2009 to make way for Citi Field — as a kid.
I head back towards the field, where the Mets are up 4-0. “I’m all about that bass ‘bout that bass” pumps the speakers, prompting dancing from the crowd. I take my seat as Asdrúbal Cabrera takes base. He swings at the pitched ball, which boomerangs towards the outfield. With a roar from the crowd, two players safely make it to home plate as the board glows 6-0.
“Keep it warm!” a fan bellows behind me before the speakers answer with “We will, we will rock you.” A vendor with a heavy metal box on his head parades through the aisle near me shouting: “Hot dawgs! Yummy yummy, who’s got money? Hot dawgs!”
I hear the clean crack of a bat and look out at the field where the ball is making its way towards the outfield as if on a zip line. The bases are loaded and the crowd watches in earnest as the ball passes the outfield fence. 40,000 fans erupt into screams and jump wildly — Yoenis Céspedes has hit a grand slam.
The comically giant Mets’ Home Run Apple with its cheery green stem inches out of its hiding place behind centerfield. It’s a tradition that began in 1980 and is now iconic at a Mets game; the original Shea Stadium apple used to pop out of a black top hat after a home run.
Piano Man by Billy Joel begins to play and the stadium stands in unison, singing and swaying like a group of old friends. The Mets win 13-1 — but who’s counting?